Harvesting morels correctly

Harvesting Morels Properly


What is the correct and proper way to harvest your morels from the earth? The technique used to harvest and bag your morels is often debatable, and at times controversial among some morel hunters. Pinch, cut, pluck and bag your morels – it is really just that simple? Does it matter which technique you use?
The Great Morel believes it might and is about to dive to help answer these questions. While doing so attempting to set the record straight by highlighting the pros and cons with a sprinkle of a little science behind the reasoning.

the pinch or cut technique will keep your morels free of dirt when you are ready to clean

Cut, Pinch or Yank…

The Great Morel will start off by saying the preferred method is to pinch or cut your morels at the base of the morel at ground level before you bag them. Yes, we can hear the counter arguments already. If for no other reason than this simple fact – your morels will not be full of dirt when you get them home.
It is a simple process – a pinch or a cut as close to ground level as possible using your fingers or a small field or pocket knife. Pinch and twist will usually do the trick, but depending on the size of your morels a small knife may be more useful.
Leave the root system in the ground. We will touch on the science part of this technique in a bit, but harvesting your morels using the pinch or cut technique will keep your morels free of dirt when you are ready to clean and prepare them.

You can pick up any kind of field knife or pocket knife at any hardware or outdoor store of choice. It is one of the recommended tools of the morel hunting trade, so make sure you have one in your pocket when you head to the woods.

There are mycologists and other morel hunters who will all have an opinion and reasoning regarding the pinch and/or cut technique. Reasoning that may be arguable, however, they all make sense. Some comments from fellow morel hunters from a past Great Morel Instagram post on this topic show just how debatable this one topic can be….
Morel harvesting thoughts
There are many who believe it is best not to disturb this complex network of underground magic, and The Great Morel agrees. A couple of posts on Reddit show just how opinions on this can vary…

“Pulling may be more beneficial than cutting because some studies indicate that disruption of the mycelium may trigger new growth. A proposed downside of cutting is the introduction of pathogens into the exposed tissue left by a stump. No matter which method is chosen, the mycelium that produces the fruiting bodies we like to consume remains beneath the soil and will continue to fruit each year until it consumes all available nutrients “
And another post by dktaylor987 on Reddit goes on to add this opinion:
“Doesn’t matter if twist and pull, the shroom is just the fruit of the mycelium. Once the mycelium dies (before next year) it will be done and a new patch will depend on spores finding a suitable medium to produce mycelium. Spreading spores is a good idea, odds are slim, but that’s why shrooms have billions of spores.”
It is tough to find solid evidence to validate which is the correct way, so maybe it is safest to summarize and say…it is up to you.

The Harvesting Bag…

Once again, the bag of choice is often as debatable as the topic of how you pick them. There are seasoned morel hunters who would be appalled at the sight of anything other than a mesh bag in the woods. The Great Morel concurs, however, if it is your only source, then you’ll get a one-time pass.
morel mesh bag
The easiest thing to do is get a good mesh produce or vegetable bag. Often referred to as an “onion bag”. The Morel Store does not carry these, but a quick visit to HarrisSeeds.com, or go purchase fresh produce in bulk at your favorite grocery/fruit market.

One of the reasons for the mesh bags is that many feel this helps the dispersing of the morel spores. While in fact, more than likely the microscopic spores from the fungus have been released long before you pick them. Again, this is arguable, and there may be someone reading this now who is ready to lay out a counter argument.
Research by mycologists suggest the morel will produce and release tens of thousands of these microscopic spores in its short life cycle. The image below is courtesy of Thomas J. Volk, Dept. of Biology, University of Wisconsin- La Crosse. 

(Volk and Leonard 1990, Volk and Leonard, 1989a)

The image shows the life cycle of the morel mushroom and understanding each of these critical stages is important. Starting with the actual living organism – mycelium. Mycelium is what is going on underneath the morel and it is an intricate web of root-like filaments which make up the primary organism of the morel mushroom. For more please visit “Life Cycle of the Morel” written by Tom Volk who is a leader in mycology studies for many years.

Understanding the spore release process can occur from rain, wind, or other means is important and brings us to why using a mesh bag may be important to the morel. If the spores have yet to be released when you pick or cut your morels, then the chances of you helping Mother Nature’s cycle of life have increased by using the mesh bag.
But it must be said – if you stumble on a patch and are without any type of bag, it is totally acceptable to use the shirt off your back!


Getting them to the Kitchen…

Getting your morels home and ready for the table may be the easiest part. There is really is only one thing you need to do to keep your morels happy until you get there – make sure they can breathe and don’t allow them to get overheated. In other words, don’t leave them in your car on a warm spring day for an extended time. Keep them as cool as possible and if you must, throw them in a cooler.

Once you get your morels home there are a few suggestions depending on how quickly you plan to prepare them. If you plan on preserving for later consumption, then check out the Preserving Your Morels page and the Preserving Blog post for ideas. If you are planning on getting them in a skillet within a day or two – then simply rinse clean, slice, remove any foreign critters, and place them in a large bowl covering with a cotton towel, and place in the fridge.

There are morel hunters who have their very specific list of “do’s and don’ts” once your morels are home. Some say not to use salt to kill off the critters, some say do not soak in water, some do not refrigerate. Not that any of these things are definitively right or wrong, so just find a happy medium and keep in mind these are suggested practices. Also, visit the recipe page for other ideas on prepping, preserving, and cooking them.

In Summary…

In summary, most of us understand the morel mushroom can keep us guessing as to what makes it happy. The weather, the trees, the soil and yes, the harvesting are all part of the guessing game. If morels could talk we all would be a lot smarter. If you have a true and tested technique for picking morels from your morel patch, then continue on. If not, the suggestions above will hopefully help in keeping your morels happy until you are ready to feast.